Modern Literary Zeitgeists

Books everyone seemed to be reading at the time.

There always seem to be books about that everyone is reading at that moment. You used to see them held firmly open on buses and trains, I have a habit that if I’m sitting by someone who is reading something that I’ve not heard of but looks interesting I’ll try and inconspicuously stare at them until I can see the title and author, this isn’t always as easy as it sounds due to annoyingly placed hands! I’ve picked up some good suggestions that way from people who will never know (unless I fail at being subtle, which happens). But as more and more people are reading on tablets it’s getting harder to spy on them.

Going through my books recently I came across a couple of books that were very much “of the moment” and I too was part of that. I read them when they were out and very much enjoyed them both. As you don’t hear too much about them these few years later (although both are still highly regarded and probably selling shed-loads) I thought I’d put them forward as suggestions for those who have yet to get round to them.

The first is the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Published in 2003, and taking its title form a throw-away line in a Sherlock Holmes story (“The Adventure of Silver Blaze” – also worth reading), this is too is a detective story – but with a BIG difference.

The victim is a neighbour’s dog and the detective is a fifteen year old boy, called Christopher, who it is implied is on the autism spectrum. What makes this so captivating is that is it written in the first person so as he goes about trying to solve the case we get a massive insight into his way of thinking.

Christopher is a very likeable character and is a pleasure to be in the company of, however as he continues his investigation he discovers that there are bigger things happening in the world around him and as a result you end up really empathising with him as he has to adjust to a new reality.

The tone feels light and easy to digest, that is until when you actually stop and think about it and you realise you’ve been taking in some quite heavy stuff. This is a skill in writing that I am very envious of. It has been adapted into a play and, when theatres are open once more, if you get the chance I’d recommend seeing it as well. I’m not a great fan of watching adaptions of books I love but this one is so good I’d say it was essential, but only after you’ve finished the book.

And Father said, “Christopher, do you understand that I love you?”
And I said “Yes,” because loving someone is helping them when they get into trouble, and looking after them, and telling them the truth, and Father looks after me when I get into trouble, like coming to the police station, and he looks after me by cooking meals for me, and he always tells me the truth, which means that he loves me.
― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The other book is Salmon Fishing In The Yemen the debut novel by Paul Torday, this was adapted into a film but I’ve not seen it as I don’t think it could beat the book. When it was published in 2007 it seemed that everyone was reading it. I waited until a trip to Finland in 2014 (thinking about it only other book I’ve read by Paul Torday so far I read in Copenhagen so maybe next time I’m in a Nordic country I should pick up another).

Slightly unconventional it tells of a scheme to set up, exactly as the title tells you, salmon fishing in the Yemen. Told by way of emails, entries in Hansard (the transcripts of what goes on in the UK Parliament – I should write a blog about that one day it’s very interesting) and various other short texts this book manages to take in marriage issues, the middle east, faith, government intrigue and of course fishing, but such a range never feels overwhelming.

Again this book feels easy to read, even if there is more going on than at first you realise, making it ideal for a sunny spring afternoon.

“As I write this entry in my diary, I myself feel like a diary which has been left out in the rain, from which the moisture has washed away the cramped inky writing, the record of thousands of days and nights, leaving only a blank and sodden page.”
― Paul Torday, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

Both this and The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time and deserve their place as literary zeitgeists, as it were, but they are also on their way to becoming permanent entries into quality literature.

Buy The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Buy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

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One thought on “Modern Literary Zeitgeists

  1. Thanks for sharing this post! I have read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as mesmerized as the rest of the world. Haven’t heard of the second book but will definitely look it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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